Two RATs per week for Vic pupils, teachers

Callum Godde |

Students and teachers will undergo twice weekly rapid testing and third COVID-19 vaccine doses will be mandated for eduction staff under Victoria’s back-to-school strategy amid the Omicron wave.

Premier Daniel Andrews says the RATs will be doled out to schools across the state in the lead up to classes returning on January 31.

“It is about finding as many cases as we can and shutting down those chains of transmission,” he told reporters on Sunday.

The schools testing regime will run for four weeks before it is reviewed. A similar plan has been announced for NSW schools after collaboration between the two states. 

The cost of supplying the tests will be split 50/50 between the Victorian and federal governments under an existing arrangement.

A third immunisation dose will also become compulsory for Victorian teachers and other education staff by February 25, or within three months and two weeks of when they had their second jab.

Education Minister James Merlino says 99.7 per cent of staff were double-dose vaccinated by the end of term four last year.

“I have got every confidence that staff will enthusiastically respond to the third dose vaccine mandate,” he said.

Mr Andrews says the move is important to protect children aged five to 11, who only became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine a fortnight ago.

“We know this Omicron variant spreads so fast and we know that based on common sense and logic, if we can get as many people third dose protected as possible, that has a positive impact,” he said.

Air purifiers have also been delivered to Victorian public and low-fee independent schools to increase ventilation in classrooms and other areas.

The rollout of the devices has gathered momentum in recent weeks, with 41,000 of 51,000 distributed as of Friday.

In addition, a pool of inactive or retired teachers, principals and other education staff are being recruited to plug expected COVID-related gaps in the workforce after term one begins.

It comes after Victoria recorded 13,091 new COVID-19 cases and 14 deaths on Sunday. The new infections are from 6625 PCR tests and 6466 rapid antigen tests.

Sunday’s overall daily case figure is the lowest recorded in Victoria since January 3 and Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton believes infections during the state’s Omicron wave have “very likely” peaked.

“ICU cases and deaths haven’t peaked but will hopefully stabilise soon,” he tweeted on Sunday.

It brings the total number of active cases in the state to 191,058, which includes 1002 people in hospital, down 27 from Saturday’s figures.

The number of Victorians in intensive care remains at 120 and there are 44 people on a ventilator.